Was he a lucky man John wondered, or had he turned into a pathetic old sugar daddy. A sad aging gigolo who tried to captivate his youth via a succession of relationships with ever younger women. Maybe she was too young for him after all. And it wasn’t helping that she was working in the pub until closing time.
The problem was not so much that he was jealous of her flirting with some other men – that was par for the course in her job. It was more that he was finding it difficult to stay awake until she came home. They’d had a whirlwind of a passionate start to their relationship and she had given up her rented apartment above the An Fidléir Dubh a mere week into it and moved in with him. Was he in danger of turning into a grumpy old hermit? They seemed to quarrel most nights now. The novelty of Mariella’s southern temperament, at first so intriguing in its volcanicity, was becoming rather tiresome. Every little thing was erupting into a big drama.
Why could he not be nicer to her brother whom she had invited to come over to Ireland for his September break and stay with them. Four weeks for God’s sake. Only 18 years old, limited knowledge of English, and his first time to be away from Mamma’s home cooking, there was a limit as to how much he could converse with Mario. Another three weeks to go. John sighed and lifted a smelly worn sock off the sofa. He nearly slipped on the discarded T-Shirt which lay on the tiled bathroom floor en route to the wash basket.
He had suggested that he would be happy to pay for Mario to stay in a nearby bed and breakfast. “Are you crazy, caro? He is family, we have to look after him. What would mamma say? He is depressed. His girlfriend cheated on him. With his best friend. He stays here with us and we help him. Basta.” Arms were flying, hands gesticulating, eyes on fire, and that was that. Another three weeks. Great.
Family ties were a big thing with her. John’s parents had passed away long ago and his brother and sister had both emigrated far away. He loosely followed their exploits through Facebook, and they called each other via Skype on birthdays and at Christmas, but they hadn’t met in person since their father’s funeral 14 years ago. Their mother had preceded his departure from this world two years prior to the very day, the 29th of October. Both of them had been interred on the 2nd of November of the respective year of their passing, their wills having specified in no uncertain terms that neither of them wished to be cremated. Fiona had flown over from San Francisco accompanied by her girlfriend who it seems had been expecting to experience some Druidic Samhain ritual accompanying or at least influencing the proceedings.
There was no such ritual of course, but something odd had happened nevertheless. God, John hadn’t thought of this in years. A woman dressed in an ankle-long flowing hooded black cloak had joined the group of mourners. She had stood apart from the group of what must have been well over a hundred, keeping herself at a distance of a few feet from the back of the temporary wooden cross which was placed where the headstone would be returned once the earth had settled enough and once it had had its newest inscription added. Irish funerals always draw large crowds, and dad had been a professor at Trinity College, retired at the time of his death but still known to a great many people and so the turnout had been good. She had stood motionless throughout the priest’s graveside prayers and all the time it had taken for everyone to walk up to the grave, cross themselves, pick up a handful of earth and throw it and some flowers onto the coffin which had been lowered into its darkness. No one had spoken to her. Had no one known her? John hadn’t thought to ask around at the time. She had been standing there still when John took a last look back on his way out of the cemetery.
Derek had travelled without his then heavily pregnant second wife who had stayed behind in Sidney. He had been a mess. John was encountering this kind of thing a lot in his practice. It’s the unresolved rifts, the finality of not ever getting another chance to mend a falling out, which hits those finding themselves in such a place of no return to the before this rift occurred nor a future of the thereafter that would at least hold some potential of a reconciliation at the time a parent dies the hardest. Henry and John’s ex-girlfriend Ginnie, she was Henry’s wife then, had been at the funeral as well to lend John their support. Of everyone there, these two, and Henry in particular, had brought him the most comfort just by being there. He had been somewhat embarrassed though when Derek had embraced Ginnie and had held her close to him for much too long, he had felt, sobbing into her neck.
How strange that he should be thinking of all this tonight. Was it the mention of the chicken bones over his lunch time meeting with Henry which had brought this on? The day after the funeral he and Derek had returned to the gravesite together. A circle of small pale bones had been left at the base of the wooden cross. Chicken bones they had thought they were. Had it been the mysterious cloak-clad woman who had placed them there, and for what reason would she have done that? Derek had been shocked and Fiona’s girlfriend had thought it awesome that some sort of a ritual had taken place after all and had marvelled about the significance of what she called the chicken bone henge.
He would have to ask Henry about the meaning and origin of the chicken bone in Ginnie’s piece of art which seemed to have played some part in the session with this Ms White which according to the account that had been given to him earlier had ended in disaster. She hadn’t called yet to make an appointment with him, he’d made sure his secretary knew to accommodate her with priority and squeeze one of his regulars out if need be and to let him know immediately if a Ms Catherine White called.
A loud thump from above made him jump. So Mario was in and no doubt lifting weights again up there. A bit pissed most likely and letting them drop onto the floor boards. Making the most of being out of mamma’s sight and enjoying John’s and Mariella’s hospitality. John had noticed that a Whiskey bottle had gone missing from the kitchen press. He hoped that the lad wouldn’t come crashing down through the ceiling. The boy was obsessed with his physique. And there’d be hell to pay if any harm came to him and mamma got to hear about it.
John turned the sound on the stereo up. A powerful soprano voice was belting out a ballad about being heartbroken and not wanting to be alone. He walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Last night’s left over chicken tikka would do. It was handy the way take outs came in plastic containers these days. He decided to avoid having to deal with dirty dishes later on and eat it cold and straight out of the container. The door of the fridge held five cans of beer. Last night he had fallen asleep on the sofa halfway through the first can from a freshly bought six pack. He resolved to stay awake tonight and opted for making himself an espresso instead. It would still be another couple of hours before Mariella came home.
He lowered himself onto the sofa and put his feet up onto the glass table. Mariella hated when he did that, but so what. She wasn’t here to criticize him about it now, was she. He munched the chicken tikka in every way like his mother had told him not to. He would ruin his shirt with masala sauce stains if he bloody well pleased to. If the stains didn’t go out in the wash he’d simply throw it out and wear a new one.
Soon after dinner he found himself engrossed in the file Henry had handed over to him and urged him to read.
© Ash N. Finn, 2016